July 29, 2010
By David Driver
For the MassLive
Used with permission
HAGERSTOWN, Md. – Former University of Massachusetts baseball standout Mitchell Clegg and the Hagerstown Suns, a minor league affiliate of the Washington Nationals, left North Carolina after a night game July 23 against the Asheville Tourists in the South Atlantic League.
The team planned to drive to Hagerstown, since the Suns had a home game July 24 against the West Virginia Power. But the Hagerstown bus broke down and the team spent the night at a hotel in Kinsport, Tenn.
The Suns left Kingsport the morning of July 24 but the second bus broke down near Harrisonburg, Va., about two hours south of Hagerstown. The team got back on the first bus, which had been fixed, and got to Hagerstown in time for the game, although it was delayed about 45 minutes due to the travel problems.
“It is a cliché, like everybody says, but it is a grind,” Clegg, 23, said of life in the South Atlantic League, which stretches south to Georgia, west to Kentucky and north to New Jersey.
But that was not the end for Woburn, Mass., resident Clegg, who was drafted by the Nationals in 2009 in the 21st round out of UMass. He had an early morning wakeup call Sunday for a flight from northern Virginia to Florida, where he reported Monday to begin a rehab program for “shoulder problems and fatigue” at the spring training home of the Nationals in Viera.
Clegg was 8-1 this year with an ERA of 2.60 in 16 games, including nine starts, for Hagerstown. In 72.2 innings he allowed 69 hits and 15 walks with 43 strikeouts.
The last time the 6-foot-5 Clegg pitched in a minor league game was June 30, when he allowed two earned runs in 5.2 innings as a starter. He is now off the seven-day disabled list, but there is no set date for his return to Hagerstown. “It depends on how my shoulder feels,” said Clegg, who in his last 10 outings with the Suns had an ERA of 1.71.
“He has had a tremendous year,” said director of player development Doug Harris. “He has had a little bit of a setback right now, a physical setback. He started off in the bullpen. He did a fantastic job there. He has improved and won. We hope he has more in the tank.”
Harris, a former minor league pitcher with the Royals, Marlins and Orioles, said the Nationals sent Clegg to Florida for 12 to 15 days. The Nationals, Harris said, want to closely monitor the number of innings Clegg throws in his first full season of pro ball. There are no plans for shoulder surgery.
Clegg, in a telephone interview from Florida, is optimistic. “I think it is a great opportunity, to be honest with you. You get with bigger organizations, such as the Yankees or Red Sox, and it is tough to move up,” he said. “There is plenty of opportunity here. They are looking for guys who can pitch.”
One of the instructors for Clegg in Florida is Spin Williams, the minor league pitching coordinator for the Nationals and the former pitching coach for Pittsburgh. Among the pitchers Williams has worked with in the past year are Nationals rookie phenom Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen, who pitched in Hagerstown in 2009 and is now with Washington.
Last year Clegg pitched for Vermont in the short-season New York-Penn League, where he was 2-4 with an ERA of 2.20 in 13 games, with 10 starts.
The 140-game season in the South Atlantic League offered a new challenge.
“The first 20, 30 or 40 games are all right. Then you realize what it takes to play 162 games in the major leagues,” he said. “It is tough. I think it may be easier being a starting pitcher. The focus is on the day you pitch. I had a tough adjustment being out of the pen at the beginning of the year. You don’t know when they are going to need you.”
Clegg throws several quality pitches, which makes him more a candidate to start, according to Hagerstown pitching coach Chris Michalak. “We want him to build his innings back up. He has to build his innings, and he will come right back here and fit right in,” Michalak said.
Clegg throws a two- and four-seam fastball, a slider, curve and changeup. Clegg said his fastball reached around 92 miles per hour as a reliever, but he normally threw around 90 as a starter.
“He has done a real good job in whatever role we have put him in,” Michalak said Tuesday outside the Hagerstown clubhouse. “His biggest thing is he throws strikes and he is not afraid of contact. He has developed a changeup this year, and that has really helped him out. His slider is better than his curve. He is able to throw strikes with all four of his pitches. That is a key. He has good downward action on his ball.”
Clegg is one of three former UMass pitchers, all lefties, who have played this year in the Nationals minor league system.
Rookie pro Nicholas Serino, 21, was 1-2, 3.86 in his first eight games out of the bullpen this year in the rookie Gulf Coast League in Florida. Serino and Clegg were college teammates, and Clegg played amateur hockey with one of Serino’s brothers. Also, Ron Villone, 40, a big league veteran, is 2-3 with an ERA of 7.60 in 35 games for Syracuse in the Class AAA International League through Monday. “I played against him in the Southern League 17 years ago,” Harris said of Villone. “He is the consummate professional.”
Other former UMass players in the minors include:
Matt Torra, 26, from Pittsfield, a right-hander for the Reno Aces in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League as part of the Arizona farm system. He was 7-6, 4.18 in his first 19 starts this season for Reno.
Chad Paronto, who turned 35 on Wednesday, was 3-5, 4.20 in his first 38 games out of the bullpen this year for the Pawtucket Red Sox.
Nick Gorneault, 31, an outfielder from Springfield, is playing for Class AA Arkansas in the Texas League, part of the Angels farm system. He hit .440 in his first 25 at-bats with the Travelers and has also seen time this year at the Class AAA level with Salt Lake City, where he hit .186 in 188 at-bats.
Springfield native Doug Clark is playing in Korea, according to a UMass spokesman. Clark, from Central High, played in the majors from 2005-06 with the Giants and A’s.